Promised, p.40
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       Promised, p.40

         Part #1 of One Night series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  I don’t fight him off. I’m in shock, I feel sick, and my head is ringing. I can’t even think clearly to comprehend what’s happening. I feel my legs moving beneath me, but I don’t seem to be going anywhere. I can feel my heart beating wildly, but I don’t seem to be able to breathe. My eyes are open, but all I can see is my mother.

  ‘Livy?’

  I look up at him blankly, finding sorrow, anguish and torment. ‘Tell me I’m dreaming this,’ I murmur quietly. It’ll be the worst dream ever, but as long as it’s not real, I don’t care. Please let me wake up.

  His face screws up in defeat as he stops walking, bringing me to a halt by the giant glass doors. He looks totally beaten. ‘Olivia, I wish I could say yes.’

  I’m pulled into his arms and compressed against his chest violently, but I don’t return his thing. I’m numb.

  ‘We’re going home.’ He tucks me into his side and leads me onto the street. We walk some distance, neither one of us saying anything, me because I physically can’t and Miller because I know he doesn’t know what to say. I might’ve been rendered useless by shock, but my brain is working better than ever before, and it’s making me relive memories that I’ve already spent too much time on recently. My mother. Me. And now Miller.

  I’m bundled into his car carefully, like he’s worried I might break. I might – if I’m not broken already. I want to rewind the evening, change so many things, but where would I be then, apart from unaware and completely in the dark?

  ‘Would you like me to take you home?’ he asks quietly, settling cautiously in his seat.

  I turn my blank face to his. The roles are reversed. It’s him showing all of the emotion now, not me. ‘Where else would I want to go?’ I ask.

  His eyes drop, he starts the engine, and I’m driven home with Snow Patrol reminding me to open my eyes.

  The journey is slow, like he’s dragging it out, making it last for the longest time, and when he slowly pulls up outside Nan’s house, I open the door to get out without delay.

  ‘Livy.’ He sounds desperate as he seizes my arm and stops me from getting any further, but he says no more. I’m not sure what he can say, and he clearly doesn’t either.

  ‘What?’ I ask, hoping I’m going to wake at any moment and find myself wrapped in his thing, safe in his bed away from the cold harshness of the reality that I’ve found myself in – a reality that is all too familiar.

  The silence is disturbed by Miller’s phone, and he stabs at the reject button on a curse, but it soon rings again. ‘Fuck!’ he yells, tossing it onto the dashboard. It stops and chimes again.

  ‘You’d better get that.’ I pull my arm from his grip. ‘I expect they are all prepared to hand over their thousands for a night with London’s most notorious male escort. You may as well make some extra cash while you fuck a woman. I must owe you thousands.’

  I ignore his wince and leave him in the car with a face full of hurt, set on throwing all my energy into getting over the second prostitute I’ve been landed with in my short life. Except this one accepted and comforted me. This one will be harder to get over. No, this one will be impossible to get over. I can feel a darker solitude awaiting me.

  Chapter 24

  When dawn breaks, I’m still staring blankly up at the ceiling of my bedroom. It was a catch-22 situation – fall asleep and have nightmares, or stay awake and live them. My decision was made for me. I couldn’t sleep. My poor mind isn’t being given any respite and my eyes are being bombarded with flashbacks of his face. I’m in no fit state to face the world. Just as I feared, I’m further in solitary than I ever was before I met Miller Hart.

  My mobile chimes from my bedside table and I reach over, knowing it could be only one of two people, but going by the defeated look on Miller’s face last night, I’m opting for Gregory. He’ll want the lowdown from the rest of my weekend with the coffee-hater. I’m right. I feel no guilt as I reject his call and let the voicemail pick it up. I can’t speak to anyone. I fire him a quick text.

  Late 4 work. Call u later. Hope u r ok xx

  I might be late, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t matter because I’m not going anywhere, except further under my covers where it’s dark and silent. I hear the creaking of floorboards, and then the chirpy singing of Nan. It makes my eyes swell with tears again, but I brush them determinedly away when she barrels into my room and hits me with delighted navy eyes.

  ‘Morning!’ she chirps, making her way to my curtains and flinging them open. The morning light attacks my eyes.

  ‘Nan! Shut the curtains!’ I burrow under my covers, escaping the brightness but mostly escaping the look of her cheerful face. It’s eating me up inside.

  ‘But you’ll be late.’

  ‘I don’t have to work today.’ I’m on autopilot as I blurt an excuse to keep me in bed and hopefully Nan away. ‘I’m working Friday night so Del gave me today off. I’m going to catch up on some sleep.’ I keep my face hidden under the covers and even though I can’t see her, I know she’s smiling.

  ‘Didn’t get much sleep at Miller’s over the weekend, then?’ The delight in her tone cripples me.

  ‘No.’ This is a ridiculously inappropriate conversation to be having with my grandmother, but I know it’ll pacify her and give me some peace . . . for now. I have no room to accept any guilt for lying to her.

  ‘Wonderful!’ she cries. ‘I’m going shopping with George.’ I feel her hand rub my back over the bedcovers briefly before her footsteps get quieter and the door to my room closes.

  Finding the strength to break my split with Miller to Nan will have to wait until I can think of a plausible reason. She won’t settle for anything less than a full explanation. She doesn’t love Miller Hart; she loves the idea of me being happy and in a stable relationship. But if I’m mistaken and she does love Miller, then I can soon remedy that . . . but I won’t. My recent revelation will only stir ghosts for Nan, too. She might be spunky, but she’s still an old lady. I’ll suffer this darkness alone.

  I relax into my mattress and attempt to find sleep, hoping my dreams don’t bring more nightmares.

  I was hoping in vain. My sleep was restless, seeing me waking regularly, sweating, breathless, and mad. I give up come evening. After forcing myself to shower, I lie wrapped in a towel on the bed, trying to rid my mind of Miller and desperately trying to seek something else to focus on. Anything other than him.

  I should join a gym. I bolt upright in bed. I have joined a gym. ‘Bollocks!’ I grab my phone and note that I have forty minutes to get myself to my induction. I can do it, and it’s the perfect distraction. They say working out alleviates stress and gets the feel-good pheromones pumping. It’s just what I need. I swing into a rushed frenzy, stuffing some leggings, an oversized T-shirt and my white Converse into a bag. I’ll look like a complete amateur, with no sporty-looking get-up in sight, but it’ll do for now. I’ll go shopping. I bundle my heavy hair up with a hair tie as I scurry down the landing, coming to a stop when my phone declares the arrival of a text message. Walking slowly down the stairs, my heart drops with each step I take when I see it’s him.

  I’ll be at Langan’s Brasserie on Stratton St at 8.

  I want my four hours.

  My arse hits the step halfway down the stairs, and I stare at the message, reading it over and over. He’s had far more than his four hours already. What point is he trying to make here? He’s holding me to a deal which was made weeks ago, and has since been quashed by feelings and too many encounters to list. He even said himself that it was a stupid deal. It really was a stupid deal. It still is a stupid deal.

  His unreasonable demand stirs years of anger until it’s fizzing uncontrollably in my gut. I’ve battled years of self-torture. I’ve beat myself up trying to understand what my mother found that was more important than me and my grandparents. I’ve watched the agony she caused affect my dear nan and gramps, and I’ve tinkered too close to causing more agony myself. I still could, if Nan ever discovered where I r
eally was during my disappearing spell. He’s listened to me spill my heart to him, he drowned me in compassion, and all the while he was the king of debasement? I glance back down at his message. He thinks by reverting back to the clipped, arrogant arsehole he’ll have me falling at his feet again? A red mist falls, blocking the questions I want to ask and the answers I need to find. I can see nothing except resentment, hurt and burning anger. I’m not going to the gym to lash out my hurt on a treadmill or punchbag. Miller can take it all.

  I jump up and dash to my bedroom, snatching down the third and final dress from my shopping trip with Gregory. Giving it a good inspection, I conclude very quickly that he’ll disintegrate before my eyes. Holy shit, it’s lethal. I have no idea what possessed me to allow Gregory to talk me into buying it, but I’m so glad I did. It’s red, it’s backless, it’s short, it’s . . . reckless.

  Once I’ve taken my time to shower again, shaving everywhere and creaming from top to toe, I wriggle into the dress. The design won’t allow for a bra, which, annoyingly, isn’t a problem for me and my sparse chest. I flip my head upside down and blast my masses of blond into perfect waves that tumble freely, then I apply some make-up, concentrating on keeping it natural, just how he likes it. My new black stilettos and bag finish me off and, deciding a jacket will spoil the effect, I’m soon darting down the stairs faster than is safe.

  The door swings open before I make it there, Nan and George halting all conversation when they clock me flying towards them.

  ‘Wowzers!’ George blurts, then apologises profusely when Nan scowls at him. ‘Sorry. Bit of a shock, that’s all.’

  ‘Are you going out with Miller?’ Nan looks like she’s just hit the jackpot at bingo.

  ‘Yes.’ I rush past them.

  ‘Jolly good!’ she sings. ‘See how she rocks the red, George?’

  I don’t hear George’s reply, although I gather from his reaction to my red-clad body that it was a resounding yes.

  By the time I’ve run halfway down the street to the main road, I’m verging on breaking out in a sweat, so I slow my pace, also thinking that I should be fashionably late – make him sweat. I hover on the corner for a few minutes, ironically feeling like a hooker, before I flag down a cab and tell him my destination.

  I check my make-up in the reflection of the window, make a fuss of my hair and brush my dress down, making certain that it won’t be creased. I’m being as precise as Miller, but I bet he hasn’t got butterflies in his stomach, and I’m damning myself to hell for having a whole farm of them fluttering around in my tummy.

  When the cabbie turns onto Piccadilly towards Stratton Street, I glance at the dashboard clock. It’s five past eight. I’m not late enough, and I need a cash machine, too. ‘This will do,’ I say, rummaging through my purse and passing over my only twenty. ‘Thank you.’ I slide out as elegantly as possible and stride down a busy Piccadilly, where on a weeknight evening I look ridiculously overdressed. This only heightens my self-consciousness, but remembering what Gregory told me, I try my very hardest to appear confident – like I always make this much effort. Once I’ve found a cashpoint, I withdraw some money and round the corner onto Stratton Street. It’s eight-fifteen, making me a perfect quarter of an hour late. The door is opened for me and I take a deep breath of confidence, entering looking cool and self-assured, when on the inside I’m wondering what the frigging hell I’m doing.

  ‘Are you meeting someone, madam?’ the maître d’ asks, giving me the once-over, looking both impressed and a little disapproving. It makes me pull my hem down, which I immediately mentally chastise myself for.

  ‘Miller Hart,’ I inform him with the utmost confidence, making up for the little slip-up of adjusting my hem.

  ‘Ah, Mr Hart.’ He clearly knows him. It makes me feel like crap. Does he know what Miller does? Does he think I’m a client? My anger burns the nerves away.

  He smiles brightly at me and indicates for me to follow, which I do while struggling not to look around the restaurant for Miller.

  As we pass through the randomly placed tables, I begin to feel the deep burn on my skin that my heart’s nemesis spikes, just from looking at me. Wherever he is, he’s seen me, and as I slowly cast my eyes around, I see him, too. There would be nothing that I could ever do to stop the increase of my heart rate, nor the hitching of my breath. He may be the male equivalent of a high-class prostitute, but he’s still Miller and he’s still stunning and he’s still . . . perfect. He rises from his chair and fastens the button of his jacket, his dark stubble gracing his inconceivably gifted face, his blue eyes blistering me as I approach. I don’t falter. I meet his gaze with equal resolve, noting immediately what I’m about to encounter. He has an air of determination surrounding him. He’s going to try and seduce me again, which is fine, but he won’t be getting his sweet girl.

  He nods at the maître d’, a signal that he’ll take it from here, then rounds the table and pulls my chair out for me. ‘Please.’ He swoops his hand towards the seat.

  ‘Thank you.’ I sit and place my bag on the table, almost relaxed until Miller lays his hand on my shoulder and pushes his mouth to my ear.

  ‘You look unimaginably beautiful.’ He pulls my hair to the side and skims his lips across the tender hollow below my ear. He can’t see me, so it doesn’t matter that I close my eyes, but my neck tilting to give him space is a dead giveaway of what he does to me. ‘Exquisite,’ he murmurs, sending a wave of tingles down my spine.

  Relieving me of his touch, he appears in front of me again, unbuttoning his jacket and taking his seat. He glances down at his expensive watch and raises his eyebrows, silently observing my lateness.

  ‘I’ve taken the liberty of ordering for us.’

  I match his raised brow. ‘You were obviously confident that I would be here.’

  ‘You are, aren’t you?’ He collects a bottle of white wine from the floor-standing wine bucket that’s positioned next to the table and starts to pour. The glasses are smaller than the red ones that we used yesterday, and I’m wondering how Miller will cope with the placing of things on the restaurant table. Nothing is positioned as it would be at home, but he doesn’t seem too bothered by it. He’s not twitchy, and weirdly that is making me very twitchy. I almost want to put the wine on the table where it belongs.

  Pulling my wandering mind back to the man sitting opposite me, I observe his cool persona for a few moments, then I speak. ‘Why did you ask me to come?’

  He lifts his glass and swirls the wine slowly before taking it to those devastating lips and drinking slowly, all the time ensuring his eyes never stray from mine. He knows what he’s doing. ‘I don’t recall asking you to come.’

  For a split second, I nearly lose my composure. ‘You don’t want me here?’ I ask cockily.

  ‘As I recall, I sent you a message telling you that I would be here at eight. I also expressed my desire for something. I didn’t demand it.’ He takes another slow sip. ‘But by you being here, I’m assuming you would like to give me what I desire.’

  His arrogance has returned full force. It spikes my own sass, and I know Miller is now wary of my sass. He likes his sweet girl. I reach into my purse and gather the cash I’ve loaded myself with. Then I toss it on the plate in front of him and relax back in my chair, all brash and calm. ‘I’d like to be entertained for four hours.’

  His wine glass is floating between his mouth and the table as he stares down at the pile of money, which I’ve diabolically used my savings account to obtain; the savings account which contains every penny that my mother left me, the savings account which I have never dipped into out of principle. How ironic that I’m now using some of the money to have myself . . . entertained. I’ve drawn a reaction, just like I planned, and the words he once said are dancing at the front of my mind, egging me on. Promise me you won’t ever degrade yourself like that again. Me? What about him?

  He’s speechless. His eyes are fixed on the money, and I can definitely see his suspended h
and begin to shake, the wine rippling as evidence. ‘What’s this?’ he asks tightly, settling his glass down. I’m not shocked when I see him reposition the glass before he raises incensed blues to me.

  ‘A thousand,’ I reply, completely unruffled by his obvious anger. ‘I know the notorious Miller Hart demands more, but as we’re brokering a deal on just four hours and you know what you’re getting, I figured a thousand was fair.’ I take my glass and sip lazily, making an exaggerated display of swallowing and licking my lips. His blue eyes are wider than usual. His shock probably wouldn’t be noticeable to anyone else, but I know those eyes, and I know that most of his emotion comes from them.

  He breathes in deeply and slowly scrapes the money from his plate, tidying it into a neat pile before reaching for my bag and stuffing it back inside. ‘Don’t insult me, Olivia.’

  ‘You’re insulted?’ I actually laugh. ‘How much money have you made from giving yourself to those women?’

  He leans forward, his jaw ticking. Oh, I’m drawing emotion all right. ‘Enough to buy an exclusive club,’ he says coldly, ‘and I don’t give myself to those women, Olivia. I give them my body, nothing else.’

  I wince, and I know he catches it, but listening to him speaking like that is turning my stomach. ‘You hardly give me anything else, either,’ I state unfairly. He absolutely has given me something other than his body, and his barely noticeable recoil tells me he knows it, too. He’s hurt by my claim. ‘Buy yourself a new tie.’ I take the money out and throw it on his side of the table, shocked by my own harshness, but his reactions are egging me on, feeding my unreasonable need to prove something, even though I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of my coldness is achieving. I can’t stop, though. I’m on autopilot.

  The hollows of his cheeks begin to pulse. ‘And how was it different when you did it?’ He grinds the question out.

  I try to conceal my choked breath. ‘I put myself in that world for a reason,’ I seethe. ‘I didn’t relish in the extravagance. I didn’t make a living from selling myself.’

  His mouth snaps shut and he lets his eyes fall to the table briefly before he stands and buttons his jacket. ‘What’s happened to you?’

 
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